Honor Flight Keynote Speech (2)

Continuing the text of my keynote speech of 11 May:

I operated under cover as an enlisted man in the unit I was supporting. I lived with the troops, slept beside them on the ground, sat in the dirt eating C-rations next to them, used their latrines, and went with them into combat. I dressed in their uniform so that the enemy wouldn’t discover that they had a spy in their midst. I was older than the kids —and they were kids; most were 18 or 19 years old—but I’ve always looked younger than my years, so I was able to pass for one of them.

One of my biggest challenges was getting the guys to accept me as one of them. Here I was, a high-ranking civilian, who sometimes outranked their officers, living with them in the dirt. They kept calling me “sir” and “Mr. Glenn.” They shied away from me as if I were special or didn’t belong there.

One story is worth repeating. In the late summer-early fall of 1967, I was in the western highlands operating in support of the 4th Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade. One morning I got up from sleeping on the ground next to the troops and discovered that my fatigues had all disappeared. Dressed in my skivvies, I roamed around the cantonment area asking if anybody knew where my uniforms were. They showed up about two hours later. The troops had snitched them and taken them to a local tailor and paid him to sew patches over each of the fatigue pockets. One read GLENN; the other CIVILIAN. On the collars of each of my fatigue blouses, where an officer’s rank would be, he’d stitched the number “13.” I was a GS-13 at the time. And they had put the crest of the 4th Infantry Division on my hat.

The guys found the whole thing hilarious. They insisted on taking pictures of me in my newly altered uniform. From that day on, they stopped treating me as if I was an outsider. They stopped calling me “sir” and instead called me “Tom.”

The only problem arose when I encountered a soldier who didn’t know me and didn’t know what a “13” on my collar meant. He didn’t know whether to salute or not.

That was the beginning of the battle of Dak To, one of the bloodiest during the war. So many of men I was next to on the battlefield were killed.

More tomorrow.

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